Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Oh, the Humanity…

Early on, someone on the news said that Hurricane Katrina was capable of producing a disaster of Biblical proportions. Later, the mayor of Biloxi said, “This is our tsunami.” It’s not possible to improve upon these observations – both are correct.

Indeed, words are not adequate to describe the scenes that have filled the television screens and on-line reports about the disaster that has befallen New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, and other areas along the Gulf Coast. OK, so, on one level, we can see a graphic that shows that most of the city of New Orleans is below the level of the water in the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain; and so we can grasp that, when the protective levees around the city has been breached, it will begin to fill with water; but actually seeing it happen is not at all the same as grasping the concept. It’s possible to picture using the Louisiana Superdome as a refugee center; and it makes sense when you hear that this structure is located on one of the highest points of land in the downtown area. Then you see video of the holes in the rook caused by the winds; and the rain pouring through; and then the lines of people who have come there after the flooding began, and those evacuated there after being rescued from the rooftops in dramatic helicopter efforts made by the Coast Guard and the National Guard. Now, the talk is that these people will be evacuated by bus to the Astrodome in Houston, as the Superdome has no air conditioning, no water; the toilets and trash cans are overflowing; and the water around the stadium is now five feet deep and rising.

Evacuate to Houston by bus? There are, as of the last report I heard today, about 23,000 people there. Your average intercity bus (think: Greyhound) holds 47 people. That means that, if you were to move them all at one time, you’ll need 490 of these vehicles. Well, President Bush announced today that 500 buses will be coming to take those who need to be moved, so I guess that will do the job – but can you imagine going east down the highway while 500 buses are heading in the opposite direction? It boggles the mind!

Those buses may need to come back for a second round of passengers, as some say there could be as many as 100,000 people who thought they could “ride out” the storm in their homes, only to find that, having survived the winds and the rain, they cannot stay. Even if the floods don’t force them to leave, there’s no food; no water; no sanitation; no power (and so no air conditioning, or lights, or ability to cook, unless you have a gas stove or charcoal). You can’t travel; there are no stores open; no businesses operating; and it will be that way for MONTHS.

On the local news last night, there was a report about a family whose home had burned to the ground. They were all safe, no one was hurt – physically – but everything they owned was gone – and all the mementoes, all the little bits of “this and that” which anchor our memories, were gone – only the memories remain. They will rebuild the house; but it will never be the same, and it will take time. Now, this sort of thing happens around us all the time. Homes burn down, or are flattened in a storm, or submerged in a flood – and people bounce back, and rebuild, and get on with their lives. It usually doesn’t even make the news; or, if it does, it’s only for a moment. But now we’re talking about the homes, and the mementoes, and the “this and that” of the lives of the 485,000 people of New Orleans – and that doesn’t count the people of St. Bernard’s Parish, and Plaquemines Parish (both of which are still, for the most part) under water; or those in Biloxi, or Gulfport, or Gulf Shores, or any of the many small villages and towns along the Gulf Coast that were affected by Hurricane Katrina – for many of these places were simply obliterated by the winds and the storm surge. How do we grasp this?

During the reports aired while the storm was coming on shore, there were segments that featured people who had thought they could stay behind, and “ride out” the storm in their house, or apartment, or business, or hotel. I had to ask myself, why would anyone take such a chance? Then it dawned on me: we don’t really think we’re going to die. It’s like being able to grasp the concept, but not the reality, like knowing New Orleans is below the water level, yet being astounded when it floods, or seeing a structure like the Superdome, which looks massive, and so appears to be impervious to the storm suddenly springing leaks with holes in the roof. We don’t believe we’re going to die – and the proof of this, among other things, is that we all too often cling to our sins. Oh, we probably repent, and wish we hadn’t done what we had done, and truly mean it when we ask God to forgive us, and to help us be transformed, so that we don’t do it again. Then we repeat the behavior, and go through the whole cycle once again. “I survived Hurricane Betsy in 1965; I survived Hurricane Camille in 1969; so I figured that this one wouldn’t be any worse…” We all do it; we’re all there in that situation; we’re all, in one way, stupid – because we don’t think it’s going to happen to us. We’re not going to die; we’re not going to have to give an account of ourselves, and of our lives, before the righteous Judge… We need to open our eyes; and realize that we ARE going to depart this life one day – and maybe sooner than we’d think. There are, potentially thousands of people who thought they’d be safe in their homes who didn’t make it out, and won’t be on a bus to Houston, or to another refugee center; or staying with family or friends in another area, or in a hotel or motel, until they find out if and when they can return to their homes. Many people survived, and will come through this, and rebuild their homes and businesses, and lives, and get on with them. Others, perhaps thousands, will be found in the homes they thought would shelter them, killed by the floodwaters, or buried in debris – and others will never be found at all.

Please forgive the length of this blog. I haven’t yet covered all that I want to say, as I try to work all this out for myself, if not for anyone else. That will come later – right now, it’s time for our regular monthly pannikhida service. Please remember to pray for those who died, that the Lord will have mercy on them. Please remember to pray for those who survived, and face a most uncertain future right now, that the Lord will have mercy, and provide for them. Please remember to pray for our leaders, who must make difficult decisions as they try to come to grips with an incredible natural disaster; and for the care-givers who seek to help those in need, that the Lord will strengthen and guide them and keep them safe.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Homophobia, Man Dates, Pink Shirts, and Pat Robertson

A Sampling of News Articles from Today

Are They Serious? Man Dates?
No, it isn’t a typo: the article isn’t about “Mandates” – it’s about “Man Dates”; as in, two guys going out to spend time together, in a way that parallels what happens when a man and a woman go out on a “date.” The rules are almost comical – except, of course, for the part about grilling. That’s something to always take seriously!

Can You Wear These on a Man Date?
According to this article, the latest color for men’s fashions is… pink. Yes, you read that right: pink. Pink shirts, pink neckties, even pink boots and pink sweaters. And the range of pink can be from a soft pastel to a bright coral to a shocking fuchsia. And no, it’s not from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” – this is from the Wall Street Journal.

Why pink? The main explanation offered is that the world is a dark and dreary place; and wearing pink will make you feel happy, and feel good about yourself. Uh-huh. Somehow, I don’t think the Archbishop is going to bless me to wear a pink riassa; and that’s fine, because I don’t want, and certainly don’t intend to ask him to do so! I figured that, if I make it out of black into a grey or blue vestment, I’ve gone about as far as I want to go with regard to the colors I wear…

Homophobia Test On-Line
This one comes to us courtesy of the folks at “Frontline,” which airs on PBS. (I still appreciate the wit who said that this stands for the “Proletariat Broadcasting Service”…) It somehow fits right in with articles about Man Dates and pink as a men’s fashion statement. Note, should you go to the web page, that it doesn’t ask, “Are You Homophobic?” Rather, it asks, “How Homophobic Are You?” In other words, at some level (consciously or unconsciously), the folks who put this gem together have, it would seem, assumed that we are, for the most part, homophobic. So, anyway, I took the test, and scored a “43.” This indicated, according to the report from the test results page, that I am not homophobic. Earlier in the day, when I first took the test, and, in a major blonde moment, got the answer buttons reversed (clicking on “Disagree” when I meant “Agree”, and vice-versa), I scored a “53,” which meant that I was homophobic. So, I guess I’m not too far away from the dividing line between being acceptable and unacceptable. I’m sure my score would have been much lower had I not opted for the “Strongly disagree” option on the approval of homosexual marriages, and that homosexuals should not be allowed to work with children. (And a few others, of course.)

On one level, the whole concept is skewed. “Homophobic” means, if I’m doing this right, “fear of homosexuals.” It can also mean “prejudiced against homosexual people”; and “contempt for lesbians and gay men,” and behavior that exhibits such fear or contempt. I don’t think that either fear or contempt is the basis for my beliefs and actions in this regard. Informed by our faith, we cannot give our consent to the application of our understanding of marriage to include the union of two men or two women as being the same as the union of a man and a woman. We cannot give our approval to sexual activity outside of the bounds of marriage; and, as marriage is not possible in these circumstances, we must say that homosexual behavior is unacceptable for Orthodox Christians. When persons behave in this way, there is the need for confession and repentance, and for the struggle to be transformed, and to live a life of chastity.

It must be said – and it may well be that all of us who use the Christian understanding of morality have erred in not making this more clear – that we cannot set homosexual behavior apart as some sort of aberrant activity that has no parallels. We must be equally firm in staking a stand that says that heterosexual activity outside of marriage is every bit as much a sin as is homosexual behavior; and that the requirements for chastity, and for confession and repentance and amendment of life are just as necessary for heterosexuals as for those who have homosexual desires. It’s not “homosexual vs. heterosexual”; rather, it is “sex within marriage” vs. “sex outside marriage” that is the real issue. Sexual sin is sexual sin. But, because one solution for some who sin heterosexually is the marriage of the two people involved; and since this option is not available for homosexuals, as far as the Church is concerned, I guess I’m still discriminating against homosexuals – and so I guess I’m homophobic.

Pat Robertson, Assassin
This report is simply too unreal to be believed! Is there something peculiar in the water in Virginia Beach? He wants the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, to be assassinated by the CIA, in order to prevent Venezuela from becoming “a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.”

Last time I checked, communism had pretty much been globally discredited, except in North Korea (and some college campuses here in the U.S. of A); and I don’t think too many people are going to be convinced favorably to try communism on the basis of that experience! As for Venezuela as a hotbed of Muslim extremism… Uh, according to the CIA World Factbook, Venezuela is “nominally 96% Roman Catholic, 2% Protestant, and 2% Other.” I think it’s far more likely that we’ll need to worry about Muslim extremists here before we see much of a threat from Venezuela.

My wife said it best: “How can a Christian call for the murder of another person? How can someone who claims to speak for Christ even think such a thing? It’s sad.” ‘Nuff said.